Tacoma investing in controversial A.I. tech to crack down on gun violence

Tacoma is soon implementing a "ShotSpotter" pilot program paid for by grant money from the Bureau of Justice Administration.

This pilot program is the latest in Tacoma Police's (TPD) suite of tactics to curb violent crime, which peaked in 2021 and directly led to Police Chief Avery Moore's crime reduction plan.

"I feel so proud of my men and women, of this police department," said Moore.

FOX 13 Seattle recently reported Tacoma is seeing a drop in violent crime this year. Moore hopes ShotSpotter will help make the city safer.

ShotSpotter technology uses microphones to detect the sound of gunshots, then triangulates precise incident locations and informs police. The tech uses A.I. to rule out other sounds like car backfires, then a human worker makes the final call on sending an officer to a scene.

"Even if there's not a suspect, or an offender, or a victim there, what we can do is confiscate the evidence there and process that," said Moore.

The pilot was made available thanks to grant money, which police officials say will allow them to test the software before committing city funds to the program.

TPD say they have picked "areas of implementation" in the city with care, but have not specified where those areas are. Their current crime-countering tactics include targeting high-crime areas with hotspot patrols. It is unclear if that will be the case for microphone placement during the pilot program.

However, ShotSpotter has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, with many of its detractors saying it ramps up city surveillance on civilians, but does little to keep people safe.

Some cities that used the technology have already made the decision to drop it, like Chicago.

The ACLU of Washington says the technology has no business in the state. They provided us with this statement:

"Automated gunshot location systems like ShotSpotter do not reduce gun violence, and instead, they fuel racial disparity in policing and disproportionately harm Black and Brown communities. Through an extensive network of microphones placed in neighborhoods, this surveillance technology also poses risks to people’s privacy and civil liberties, and can chill free speech and deter free association. Cities in Washington should not line up to be a beta test for technology that has already been rejected by other cities like Chicago for being ineffective, dangerous, and an expensive waste of public funds."

– Tee Sannon, Ph.D., ACLU-WA Technology Policy Program Director

FOX 13 Seattle asked Moore his thoughts on the concerns critics have with this technology.

"The equipment detects gunfire, and gunfire has no ethnicity to it. So, it will be based on the evidence that my entire crime plan has been based on. I am aware of harm from a police perspective, a community perspective, and it looks like in any way that this equipment does that, then the equipment won’t be here," said Moore. 

Moore said the pilot program will last around one year, before any permanent consideration or decision will be made.


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TPD will be showing off the ShotSpotter technology during a workshop on April 17.